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Here’s the (slightly ugly) truth about salary rises in Hong Kong

Candidates in Asia are probably wistfully wishing they could go back in time. Just a year or two ago, salary increases for those moving firms were a generous 20 or 25 per cent. Today, thanks to the global slowdown, pay rises across banking jobs in Hong Kong are about 10 or 15 cent, according to recruitment firm Astbury Marsden.

Mark O’Reilly, managing director, Asia Pacific, Astbury Mardsen, says these modest salary hikes will continue well into next year. “I expect 2012 wages to be relatively flat, there’s not going to be a great deal of wage inflation, unlike in 2010 when candidates commanded good increases and firms were using cash to entice staff from competitors. There are still opportunities for candidates to improve their compensation when they switch jobs and most firms will still provide some form of salary increase, but pay rises are nominal compared with last year.”

An increase above 15 per cent is now seen as “outside market” and will need serious justification – for instance if the candidate is exceptionally valuable with rare skill sets. Nevertheless, huge salary rises are the exception rather than the rule, says O’Reilly. Candidates in Hong Kong are quite realistic and most have already revised their expectations downward, he adds.

It’s the same in Singapore

The scenario of modest salary increases for switching employers is echoed in Singapore’s financial sector. Pan Zaixian, director of financial services and legal divisions, Robert Walters Singapore, says current salary increases are also in the same 10 to 15 per cent bracket. However, he has seen a few instances of firms offering a donut rise. “While most candidates will want an increase, it all depends on the candidates’ motivations for the move. If candidates are more concerned about job security, a pay premium isn’t as much of a priority,” says Pan.

Getting the deal you want

So how does one negotiate a compensation package in the present market without seeming too greedy? Here are some tips:

1) Hot or not?

1) Pan says certain roles in banking will continue to pay well and remain prominent, even in a downturn. Certain sales, risk and control areas may still look to hire. In comparison to other roles, candidates from these sectors will have more leverage when negotiating a package.

2) Rein in those expectations

Job seekers need to be realistic and manage their expectations. “I would go further to say that candidates should set their expectations as low as possible. If a financial crisis happens, there won’t be many opportunities in the market,” says Pan.

3) Do your homework

O’Reilly recommends that candidates research their current market value by speaking to their peers and recruiter contacts. “Candidates thinking of moving should consider the timing of the move in terms of bonus and salary cycles. Above all, recognise that market conditions today are very different compared to a few years ago.”

4) Look beyond remuneration

With modest wage inflation expected in 2012, moving for reasons other than just compensation matters more than ever. O’Reilly says career progression and professional development are increasingly important factors that candidates need to consider.

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